Crossing Over

The gap between generations of radiologists isn’t as wide as you’d think.


The millennial generation is self-absorbed. Generation X is overly cynical. The baby boomer generation lives to work. These stereotypes — and more — saturate conversations whenever the topic of age comes up.

Countless articles give advice on managing the problems of working millennials or explain how to deal with aging boomers, especially in terms of shifting workplace values.

Much in Common

As we work with individuals from a variety of generations, it is important to note that the differences between generations cannot be neatly generalized, especially for radiologists. In 2014, researchers surveyed a large cohort of radiologists, hoping to determine what they valued in terms of workplace satisfaction. The plan was to chart workplace values along generational lines. However, when the results came back, researchers were surprised to find the qualities radiologists considered important to their work did not significantly correlate to their generation.

Although flexibility and work-life balance are frequently cited as high priorities for millennials, survey results noted that this was not the most important factor for any specific group of radiologists. Similarly, although baby boomers in general are noted to be less team-oriented, among the radiologists surveyed the opportunity for social interactions in the workplace was noted as an important factor regardless of generation.

Cultural Kaleidoscope

“Nothing is hard and fast in terms of these groups,” says Lawrence L. Liebscher, MD, FACR, chair of the ACR Commission on General, Small, and Rural Practices. “Too many factors account for what affects an individual’s desires — culture, for instance, or where the individual is in their family life.” Alysha Vartevan, DO, a resident at Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami, Fla., adds, “Despite the belief that younger radiologists are looking for less work, often the opposite is true. I’ve found that younger radiologists tend to look for more hours, whether it’s to pay off loan debt or to begin increasing financial gain. But even that’s not true for every younger radiologist: a radiologist who has just started a family may not desire to work those same long hours and may prefer to spend time with family.”

Liebscher notes that the same is true for radiologists of an older generation. “A lot of radiologists who are close to retirement are looking for more flexible hours. For most of them, financial gain is less of a concern,” he says. “Certain health conditions also may not allow them to work under the same conditions. Working an 18-hour shift and then coming back to work in a couple of hours is a lot easier for someone who’s 43 instead of 60.” Then again, there are those in the older generation who may be interested in earning more money to speed up their time to retirement or whose health does not factor into their work schedule, says Liebscher.

The Right Question

While generational stereotypes don’t necessarily hold true in radiology, great differences do exist in what people are looking for in terms of their work-life balance and the tasks they prefer to do while at work, such a preference for reading images or serving on committees. When these individual differences are wrongly attributed to generational divides, the result can be unnecessary friction.

According to Andrew Moriarity, MD, a radiologist at Advanced Radiology Services and Michigan State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., “Viewing these groups as a large set of stereotypes can cause problems. Many instances of disagreement actually arise because of preconceived notions on how different generations are ‘supposed’ to think.” Moriarity, lead author on the 2014 study, adds, “Often, these differences lead to workplace conflict because people may not take the time to ask what others actually value and dispel the myths. They make assumptions based on stereotypes instead.”

So perhaps the question you should be asking is not “How do I deal with the differences between older and younger generations?” but “How do I coexist with differences in my individual coworkers’ values?”

Open Door

On a practice level, leaders need to help ensure that the different lifestyle choices among employees exist together peacefully. One way to do this in your practice is to promote open communication, both among colleagues and between leaders and employees. Moriarity notes, “Leaders should create an environment that promotes sharing and open communication from members rather than allowing differences or biases to continue existing in isolated silos.”
Combat silos by having open forums, such as large meetings with the entire group as well as conversations with individuals, suggests Vartevan. “That way, you ensure not only that your expectations are clear, but that you create a place where employees feel safe to express their ideas,” she says. Moriarity adds that leaders should also make it clear that their door is always open to communication and that employees should feel comfortable sharing their opinions. “By facilitating open discussions with group members of diverse backgrounds, you can identify issues or potential conflicts with your group before they become problems,” he says.

On the employee side, it’s important to listen to those who have different values than you do and consider their goals. “Understand each other’s different desires and then work together to create a solution that encompasses several issues in a package deal rather than focusing on single issues and emphasizing your differences,” says Moriarity.

Filled Gaps

Although work-balance issues vary by individual rather than generation, these differences can frustrate employees. For example, notes Liebscher, a radiologist whose family is settled and who needs less time off may become increasingly frustrated with a coworker who is beginning a family and may need a more flexible schedule.

To that end, practice leaders should consider ensuring that their employees have flexible schedules to accommodate their unique needs whenever possible. Understanding the different needs of each stage of life is important, says Liebscher. He notes that while a retiring radiologist might need to cut back on hours, another radiologist may be looking for hours. Additionally, you may have radiologists looking to work part time or willing to take more call. In this way, the practice may be able to reduce any tension that might occur between groups working longer hours and those who need to work a different schedule.

Liebscher says, “I would think that with imaging and the increasing size of radiology groups that it would be easier to accommodate someone who wanted to only work 60 or 80 percent of the time. Yet I still see groups struggling to do that.” Practices that do offer a more flexible work environment may have a more competitive place in the market, argues Liebscher.

By creating happier employees, your practice becomes more marketable to radiologists looking for employment. Not only that, but happy employees are at least 12 percent more productive than stressed ones.

To allow for flexible schedules, start with communication. Talk to the rest of your group and determine strengths and weaknesses among your members, and then determine a compensation structure that accounts for that, says Liebscher. Perhaps a semi-retired member doesn’t want to work as many hours at a PACS station but would be a good resource for shorter shifts as a mentor or educator to some of the younger radiologists or residents. Or perhaps you have younger members looking to take on more hours and are good communicators. They may be able to pick up more hours consulting with referring physicians or patients.

Not only are these valuable tasks in a value-based health system, but they also allow physicians more flexibility in choosing the way individuals work and playing to each one’s strengths, says Liebscher. “And by giving monetary value to tasks in your practice,” he says, “you help emphasize that these tasks are valuable — not only to your patients but your practice as well.”

By Meghan Edwards, copywriter for the ACR Bulletin

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